December 17, 2020
  • Opinion

Why it is important to get vaccinated for the flu during the COVID-19 pandemic

Why it is important to get vaccinated for the flu during the COVID-19 pandemic
|||| |||| ||||
By Turner Bitton and Polina Konuchkova

The impact of COVID-19 on west-side communities has revealed the importance of public health as a primary responsibility of each of us. The pandemic has harmed our neighborhoods on a scale that we haven’t seen for over 100 years. Like many, we are anxiously awaiting a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine to start to bring some normalcy back to our lives.

In the meantime, we have been challenged by the Westside Coalition – a group of representatives from the six west-side community councils and other key organizations  – to explore ways to help our neighborhoods that have been disproportionately affected by pandemic.

We approached the Salt Lake County Health Department to identify how the coalition could make an impact. The response was unexpected. The department told us that the most effective way we could help was to provide opportunities for our neighbors to get the flu shot. Flu cases have the potential of straining the healthcare system every year, but in combination with a global pandemic, flu can quickly overwhelm even a robust healthcare system.

We learned that flu immunization rates in this country have declined in recent years, with Salt Lake County having a particularly low immunization rate. That means that our neighbors and families are left vulnerable to experiencing a severe illness, which may also impact getting care for other conditions (such as heart attack) in an overwhelmed healthcare system.

A flu vaccine is safe and effective in preventing the flu in the first place, or making it much less severe, reducing the risk of being hospitalized. In addition to protecting those who receive the shot, it also helps to stop the spread of it to someone who is more vulnerable (similar to wearing a mask). For these reasons, flu vaccines are available for free or very low cost every year.

In contrast, the spread of the flu has a large economic impact, estimated to cost businesses across the country $10.4 billion in the form of lost productivity due to worker sickness. The costs are magnified for people with compromised immune systems. The average household income on the West Side is roughly $45,500, or roughly $22 per hour for a full-time worker. An unexpected medical bill would be financially devastating to many families. Even with fairly decent insurance, a single hospital visit can cost in excess of $3,000.   

Getting a flu shot is an act of neighborliness. We want to do our part in protecting our community, and we want to make it as easy as possible for you to do your part as well.

For the past several months, the Westside Coalition has partnered with the Salt Lake County Health Department (and too many community partners to name) to provide no cost flu shots (as well as vision screenings) for West Side residents. We have held several drive-thru vaccination clinics over the past few months – at Glendale Middle School, Mestizo Coffeehouse (CityFront and Bridges Apts), and the Utah State Fair Park. We also had some on-site flu clinics at local breweries such as Fisher, Saltfire and Kiitos, where we reached younger people who do not normally go out of their way to get the flu vaccination.  As of the middle of December, we have helped over 800 people get their flu shots.

We understand that we are living in a time unlike any other in our memories. Too many neighbors have lost loved ones, had jobs evaporate, or faced a health crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We also know just how strong our communities are and what the residents of the West Side are capable of. As we continue to wait for the COVID-19 vaccination to be available, we encourage you to take action in a way that you can right now - get a flu shot. 

You can find a location to receive a flu shot here: https://vaccinefinder.org/find-vaccine. For flu vaccination events sponsored by the Westside Coalition, please follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/westsidecoalitionslc (Note: We are now exploring providing COVID-19 vaccines via Westside Coalition sponsored events when the vaccine becomes available. Our Facebook page will have the most up-to-date information).

Polina Konuchkova is a resident of Poplar Grove and works as a Digital Enablement Consultant  at Intermountain Healthcare. Polina enjoys volunteering on issues of health and wellness and received her flu shot from her family physician on September 29.

Turner C. Bitton is a resident of Glendale and serves in a variety of leadership positions including as the Chair of the Glendale Community Council and Executive Director of West View Media. Turner got his flu shot at our drive thru flu clinic on October 17.